At last, the Auk is ready to fly.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Getting There in My Own Time

The end is in sight, and if pressed launch date could be as early as next week. The thwarts are fitted, and next job are the knees, breasthook and general fitting out; rowlocks, mooring rings etc and floorboards.

No, not this one...

Oh, and lots of lovingly applied Coo-Var "Yacht & Seaplane Varnish". Doesn't that have a nice, old-fashioned ring about it? I can imagine it being applied to those wooden flying boats, their hulls all copper rivets and veneers, some of them, the P5 and N4s, for example, designed by Linton Hope and constructed along boat building lines dating back to the First World War.

Thursday, 14 April 2016


Getting there, in a rather desultory way, but the pace quickens and a deadline is looming.

Nothing much to say other than to point out the use of larch for the steamed timbers, rather than  oak which I find has a tendency to go brittle and break over the years. Never found that with larch which steams well and is more predictable.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

New Year New Boat

With the Auk afloat, the future looked a bit dim, with nothing in the pipeline. Then a man from Skye called to see if I could replicate an old boat he had on his family croft. Replicate, perhaps, but restore no, so I suggested one of Mr Oughtred's Tammie Norries, but stretched a little here and there, in a way that is only possible when you build in wood.

The moulds were spaced a wee bit further apart, and hey presto: another 6in, as if by magic.

The pile of larch outside the shed was hauled inside and chopped up into manageable bits, the backbone set up on the bench and before too long the beginnings of a boat started to appear at Viking's old milking parlour by the shores of Loch Broom.

The joy is that the owner is in no tearing rush, which means I can take my time. To date, a couple of weeks into the build and the garboards are on. I am trying a slightly different way of doing the stems. It's a hybrid between cutting a proper rabbet in a solid stem/apron, or splitting the two and working the rabbet into the outer stem, then refitting  it.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Auk Finished

Not much to say so here are some photos of the stretched Auk, Big Auk (Ork?) ready for collection. The rig will now be a sprit, and will be made when the time comes. For now she will be rowing only.

The centre thwart has a removeable aft slat, the reason being that the rower can choose the most comfortable distance from the back of the thwart to the rowlock, which foir an adult is around 12in. Children will want to row with the slat in, a shorter arm's length away from the rowlock, about 8in, whereas an adult will want the full stretch, in which case the slat can be removed.

Not seen that before in a dinghy, but I have often wished for it when I have found the rowlocks just a little too near for comfort.

So, here she is.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Timbered Out

The last major stage in the building of the Ork (8ft 10in stretched Auk) was completed this week with the timbering out in larch. Larch? Why not oak? Well, of all the boats I have repaired, none timbered in larch have needed timbers replacing, but many have had broken oak frames, which I guess is due to the fact that steamed oak seems to get harder and more brittle with age. The breaks usually occur at the sharpest turn of the bilge.

But I have not as yet had to replace any cracked larch timbers, although I have had to replace those worn away by fishermen's wellies. They are softer. But if protected they appear to last as long, and larch steams beautifully. In all the steaming, none broke, and I was even able to get the third from the bow to conform to the tightest of radii, without a problem.

I have been told that Canadian rock elm was like spaghetti when steamed, but you can't get it these days.

This may be a wee boat but it still has to be built in the same way as any larger and in some senses it is harder, as tolerances are tiny. I was measuring plank width differences in millimetres to make sure both sides went up evenly. The eye sees the smallest deviation from what Tom Whitfield, my mentor, called suent, an old West Country term that is hard to translate. It means sweet to the eye, and you've either got it or you haven't. It's not in the eye of the beholder either. A boat either looks right or it doesn't. It's a tricky business but very satisfying when you get it right, or so nearly so that even you can't see any faults.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

All Planked up (and nowhere to go...)

Sheerline needs a trim, down at the mid point by 1in or so, tapering to nothing at the bow. Apart from that, she's ready for fitting out.

A coat or two of sealer first of all before timbering out. Not a lot more to say other than how much harder it is to build in solid timber than plywood. More rewarding, yes; more latitude in how you lay the planks, yes; need for steaming at bow and stern, yes. Nicer? Undoubtedly. Building this boat reminded me why I got involved in traditional boat building and why I firmly believe we should never, ever forget how to build in solid clinker, a method that is as old as the Vikings who brought it to our shores.

Harder, most certainly, but do not anyone ever tell you that a plywood clinker boat is anything other than a poor, very poor relation. Sorry, but having built a few of them both, I know which I prefer (despite the head scratching and agonising).

Wednesday, 4 November 2015


Four planks up, on the bench upside down, then on to the strongback.

It's not the most efficient way to build, but I have the time to experiment to some degree and building upside down, while you can still get your head under and do the riveting up, makes sense. But then you have to move the whole lot to the strongback and set up level again.

It does mean that I was able to clean up the bottom of the boat, then do the same inside, so everything looks nice and tidy for the photos!

The moulds have since been put back in and everything levelled up ready for the fifth plank. And building right way up allows me to eyeball the lines when it comes to the crucial last four strakes.

Here's what I am seeing. Pleased, yes. Complacent? No. I can see there's a slight bump at station 2, which will need addressing before the fifth plank is fitted, something I am not sure I would have spotted when it was on the bench. See what I mean? A few strokes of the plane should sort that out before it gets out of hand.

Why is it that it's always station two that tries to get away from you. Probably because, although the width at that point is the same as the plank below, it lies more vertical, and the eye sees more of it. Why am I so honest about what can go wrong? I hope you appreciate it!